It’s been a shocking month for the StarCraft 2 competitive scene in its heartland of Korea. With this year’s major leagues (GSL & ProLeague) wrapped up and the release of StarCraft2’s last expansion Legacy of the Void in November, most of us expected some big changes to occur within the Korean scene and the KeSPA system.
I don’t think anyone saw this happening however.
In the past two weeks two SC2 Professional Teams in Korea have disbanded, Axiom & Prime. As of the time of this writing, two players and a coach have been banned for life by the Korean eSports Players Association, effectively ending their careers.
But let’s talk about Axiom first, because this hits beyond just the StarCraft community.
Axiom eSports was a team created by Genna Bain and Choi “CranK” Jae Wo, sponsored and supported by John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. It began in Setpember of 2013 and officially closed its doors on October 15th, 2015. Citing poor results, issues regarding region-locking major tournaments, problems finding players/sponsors to sign, and an overall shrinkage in the professional scene, Axiom was headed for some major revamps in 2016 (Source). Unfortunately, John Bain was diagnosed with liver cancer after fighting off bowel cancer earlier this year (Source). Obviously this changed priorities for him and his wife Genna, and losing Axiom is simply a symptom of a far more tragic story.
Choi “CranK” Jae Wo officially retired, and the rest of the Axiom roster is currently without a new team. This effectively adds three desirable free agents to the SC2 field in Alicia, Ryung and Heart, while eliminating a potential new team in next year’s ProLeague. My personal best-wishes to TotalBiscuit, Genna Bain and all the former Axiom members. Watching the Axiom-Acer games in the GSTL is what got me into the ProLeague style tournaments. TotalBiscuit made a major impact on SC2, and Axiom was a major part of that.
With that sad piece of news out of the way, let’s talk about the ugly news from Korea.
The Changwon Region Prosecution Service released information regarding match-fixing professional StarCraft2 games in GSL and ProLeague. The official report identified 11 offending parties, of whom nine have been arrested and charged. Those involved include Head Coach of KeSPA team Prime Park “Gerrard” Wae-Sik, Choi “YoDa” Byung Hyun, Choi “BBoongBBoong“Jong Hyuk and SC1 pro and journalist Seong “Enough” Jun-mo. The other individuals arrested included brokers, recruiters and members of criminal organizations.
Essentially the charges are for purposefully throwing games that were being bet on and receiving compensation for doing so. Five matches were identified as being fixed in the report.
YoDa was charged for throwing a match in GSL Code S Ro16 Season 1 on February 13, 2015 (either against Life or TY, not specified) for which he received approximately $17,650 USD. Next he threw a match against DRG in Code A Ro48 Season 2 on April 1st, 2015. He would again receive compensation in the form of approximately $8,830 USD for intentionally losing a game in Code S Ro32 Season 2 on May 13th, 2015 (against either Bbyong or Symbol, not specified). Finally, Yoda threw his match against HerO in ProLeague on June 9th, 2015. It is suspected that he was blackmailed into throwing the matches he was not directly compensated for.
BBoongBoong’s charges stem from his ProLeague match against Flash on January 20th, 2015. He was awarded approximately $4,416 USD for intentionally losing the game.
Prime’s Head Coach Park “Gerrard” Wae-Sik was charged with brokering match-fixing deals and illegal gambling activity.
This effectively puts an end to Prime as a team, and to these three individual’s respective careers in eSports. Of the other members of Prime, ByuN transferred to the Chinese X-Team, while KeeN has been left teamless.
While it is never a good thing when corruption like this is exposed, it is good that the wrongdoing has been uncovered and acted upon. Hopefully the investigation continues to unearth any more parties participating in match-fixing and puts an end to the practice before the credibility of the two biggest leagues in SC2 are damaged irreparably. There are a number of underlying issues regarding the fall of Prime. The state of legal and illegal gambling in Korea, the fall of SC2 popularity relative to both other eSports and SC2’s past popularity, and the working/living conditions of KeSPA players all contribute interesting pieces to the big picture of match-fixing in Korean eSports.
In the end, despite all the hope that Legacy of the Void’s release may be injecting into the SC2 scene, it can’t fully cover the hard fact that SC2 is shrinking from the heyday it once enjoyed in 2010-2013. With two professional teams closing their doors even before the first competitive season of LotV begins, it leaves more and more pro-players wondering if there is a viable future in StarCraft2. It’s not exactly the kind of news most of us were hoping for pre-release.
There is a lot of speculation relating to other players and teams regarding match-fixing, however I won’t be reporting any of that without substantial evidence, like seen here. Nobody deserves to be found guilty in the court of public opinion without just cause, let’s not let a few bad apples ruin it for the rest of the pros.
Axiom is closing its doors, primarily because TotalBiscuit’s cancer has returned. Wish him the Best. KeSPA team Prime has been shuttered, with its Head Coach and two players receiving lifetime bans for match-fixing. It’s a tough time to be a professional StarCraft2 player in Korea.